With training camp on the horizon, Philadelphia Flyers General Manager Danny Briere took to the podium to address some of the biggest questions facing this team in the first year of the rebuild. He continued to set the record straight on what the team is looking to accomplish this season and how John Tortorella plays a role and how he will be able to coach the team through this rebuild.
Main players are healthy
The main topic ahead of every training camp always centers around injuries. And the Flyers have certainly had their fair share over the last few years. They’ve been without Sean Couturier for almost two seasons while Cam Atkinson missed the entirety of last year and Ryan Ellis only played four games. The latter is still the same situation as his career has been rumored to be in jeopardy.
But having Couturier and Atkinson back is huge for a team that is getting younger and younger with the amount of prospects that are aiming to make the team. They will be eager to help and having them right at the beginning with the entire group is much more helpful than trying to work them in at a later part in the year like Coutirier tried to do at the end of last season.
"”I like that they’re all starting together, from day one in camp. They start from the bottom, trying to find timing, being comfortable on the ice and taking hits and all that stuff. It makes me feel better that they’re here on day one of training and growing with the guys.”"
It will also help some of the younger players having those two in the lineup. With the early comparisons to Couturier, someone like Noah Cates can continue to learn and grow as a center man at the NHL level. Being able to have those two with no limitations helps push those around them as well. They will be geared up to get back into the lineup and show they haven’t lost a step.
Young players aren’t guaranteed roster spots
In a rebuild, young players will typically get more of a shot as the team gauges what their future might look like. But that doesn’t mean putting them in scenarios and situations in which they are doomed to fail. It’s about making sure they’re in positions to succeed and are being given every opportunity to improve and further develop.
Briere talked about potential battles between veterans and younger players and if the team will lean more towards giving the latter a role. It wasn’t necessarily that simple in his mind as the above point is most important for how they handle things moving forward. While he wasn’t promising that multiple prospects would be making the jump to the NHL, he did continue to share the team’s philosophy on the development of its prospects.
"“There’s no doubt that it’s crucial to develop our young guys and think about the long term prospect for this organization.”“I felt Torts did a really good job of sensing when and where he could put them in a position to succeed.”"
It won’t just be about putting a young player out there because it’s a rebuild. It will be about putting out the right player for the situation regardless if they’re a veteran or a young prospect. No one is being put in a situation that could hurt their development down the line. It’s like how the team handled Cam York last season. He wasn’t ready at the start of the season so he was sent down to the AHL to continue working on his game. And once he came up in December, he was one of the team’s best players for the rest of the year. So it’s about making sure everyone is put in a position to succeed and help the team. It doesn’t matter who you are or how long you’ve been in the league. The jobs won’t be handed out, but they are up for the taking for everyone.
The value of success
This isn’t a tank, this isn’t about losing every single game. It is a rebuild, but the organization is still trying to build a winning culture. Briere still wasn’t ready to put a timeline on things as it’s going to take time to bring the Flyers back to a competitive team. In regard to success, it isn’t going to just be looked at in terms of winning games. While that is still the plan, the organization is going to value success more so by the development of its players.
"“It’s about the future, it’s about the development, it’s about how we come together as a team. That’s how we’re gonna judge success. We feel that Torts did an amazing job with that last year in creating the culture that needs to be in place to win. He’s gonna keep going in that direction and keep building that structure. That’s how we’re gonna evaluate more than just on-ice success.”"
There has been a lot of discussion of if Tortorella is the right coach to be able to lead this team through this rebuilding period where winning isn’t the sole focus. The perception about him isn’t something that Briere agrees with, however. Though, Briere admitted that he also bought into what was previously said about Tortorella before they hired him. But after speaking with him, it’s clear there is an excitement on his part for what he can do to help.
"“He doesn’t care if it’s a veteran or a young guy. He’ll use the player that is deserving and the players that he feels is ready for it. Rookie or not, they’ll get the chance.”"
Take Noah Cates for example. He was a player that Tortorella relied heavily on in all aspects on the game. He wasn’t afraid to put him in tough situations. A player like that is what Tortorella is excited about moving forward. He wants to work with these young players and find out what the team has.
No concern on top prospects as others impress
There are more than a few other exciting prospects in the pipeline. Ian Laperriere was the first to note that players like Tyson Foerster, Bobby Brink, and Elliot Desnoyers weren’t at their best during the team’s rookie games. Brent Flahr was a bit more milder in his assessment as was Briere. There isn’t much concern for what those three may be able to accomplish. For them, main camp is where they’ll be in the mix and be battling for a spot on the NHL roster.
"”They’re trying to get ready for the main camp. Maybe the timing wasn’t quite right, the bounces didn’t go their way quite right, maybe it’s a little bit of a wake up call for them. But I’m not worried about them. It was more for them to get ready for the main camp. They know they’re gonna be in the mix to battle for a spot.”"
While those three look more toward main camp, there were more than a few standouts that Briere noted from rookie camp. Zayde Wisdom is one that has been mentioned by all of Laperriere, Flahr, and now Briere as someone who stood out amongst the rest. It is a good sign as Wisdom certainly wants to improve upon his disappointing last season. Samu Tuomaala was also mentioned as someone Briere thought played well over the weekend. He will be back at the AHL level this season. Recent draftees in Denver Barkey, Oliver Bonk, and Alex Ciernik were given compliments in what they did at their first camp. Adam Ginning, who Briere said could get a look with the Flyers at some point, played well. And Emil Andrae earned some praise along with newly acquired Helge Grans
Open competition for backup goaltender spot
Carter Hart is the number one goaltender for the Flyers. The Hockey Canada investigation is still ongoing and there haven’t been any answers. Briere mentioned the team asked the league but they haven’t been told much. So for now, Hart is practicing with the team and is expected to continue to do so unless the team is told otherwise.
After that, it’s wide open in terms of competition. The Flyers have six goaltenders at training camp including Hart.
"“I mean, Carter is our No. 1. Carter has proven that he’s a No. 1 goalie in the NHL, and he’s still our guy,” Briere mentioned. “After that, yeah, I think it’s fair to say that it’s wide open, and we’ll see who steps up.”"
The likely favorite to take that role would be Sam Ersson who signed an extension this past summer despite a limited sample size at the NHL level. He was impressive, however, winning six of his first seven starts with the Flyers. It was also clear in the way Tortorella spoke about Ersson that had made it well known how he feels.
Felix Sandstrom, who has been less impressive at the NHL level, could find a way to fend Ersson off and gain another chance to prove his worth to the team. And newly acquired Cal Petersen will also challenge for the spot as he too has had disappointing numbers in the NHL. He’s recently spent most of his time buried in the AHL. It’s anyone’s game right now and this will be one of the biggest battles to watch.